Sunday, December 30, 2012

Take a Workshop, Give a Workshop

This is a busy and exciting month for me!  In a couple of weeks I'm off to Scottsdale to take a 5 day portrait workshop with  the extraordinary painter Ignat Ignatov.  I expect to learn a lot and to see some wonderful art in Scottsdale galleries.  I'm especially looking forward to going to Gallery Russia and seeing the luscious paint of Russian Impressionism.

A few days after I get back, it will be my turn.   I'll be teaching a portraiture workshop at the Calgary School of Art on January 26 from 10am to 4:00 pm.  I'm sure I'll have lots of new thoughts and techniques to share with the students.

Please contact the school for more information or to register for my workshop.  I hope to see you there!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tackling Tricky Lighting

In Warm Light 16 x 12

Backlit Blond 14 x 11
These paintings came out of a recent day of painting with a lovely, model who has unusual colouring.  Her hair is naturally platinum and her skin is like cream.  I was set up on her shadow side, something that turned out to be both difficult and interesting to work around.

In the first painting, I used my usual method of laying in all of the darks, transparently, and then adding local colour.  It was the warm up sketch, and I didn't want to mess with a new approach when I only had 25 minutes.  We ended up extending the painting time on this pose because we all liked it, and because there's never enough time, no matter how much it is.  In total it was 40 minutes.  Much of it was spent in that tiny mouth, nose area, trying to depict some - but not too much - detail.

The second pose lasted for almost 2 hours and I wanted to try something different.  My eyes had become keener from examining the model and I was noticing all of the cool lavender and green hues in her skin and hair.  She had changed into a bright red robe which caught the spotlight beautifully and reflected off of her jaw.  I began by painting a variety of cool grey midtone colour around the area where her face would be and then began the portrait on top of them.  Along the way I adjusted the temperature and  value within that grey mass, but made sure that it always read as a shadow and didn't become distractingly thick in application.

The fun part came in the lights.  I placed them thickly and with rich colour in the hopes that they could carry a piece with so much dark.  They didn't, at first.  I worried that I'd chosen badly in trying a shadow subject; that there wasn't enough interest to make it work.   Rather than change the value of the face, I worked on the background.  Originally it was much darker and and had more purple in it.  I thought this cool dark would set off the warm light.  But, surprisingly, when I changed the temperature behind her to a warm one, it livened up the portrait instantly.  Who knew?

It was a good lesson to me to look at the whole picture plane, not just at the subject, and to attempt something that is apparently illogical in the hopes that it may work out in the end.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Banishing the Photo Reference - Mostly

Creek in Winter
16 x 12
I decided to take my own advice for a change and keep the use of photo references to an absolute minimum.  This landscape was painted from notes and plein air sketches done on site; none of which were stellar on their own, but they contained useful information about colour and shape.  When I ran out of ideas, I allowed myself a quick peek at the photo, never enlarging the image  past thumbnail size on the screen.  That stopped me from noticing all of the detail that those megapixels can capture.

What pleases me most about this painting is the bold colour usage.  Plein air work often has that characteristic because of the speed that you have to work in order to capture the scene before the light changes, but it's often lost in the studio, especially when a painter has the luxury of studying a photo for hours at a time.  A painting can easily get overworked and lose the fresh colour of the sketch.  By forcing myself to  work mainly from the sketch it was possible to avoid that trap.

I'm tempted to try this on a large scale and see if I can keep it simple.  I'll pull out the huge brushes and pretend it's a plein air day.

Happy painting